Dark Breaks the Dawn by Sara B. Larson

Dark Breaks the Dawn

Information

Goodreads: Dark Breaks the Dawn
Series: Untitled #1
Source: City Book Review
Published: May 30, 2017

Summary

The forces of Dark and Light must remain in balance on the island of Lachalonia, or the consequences could be dire. Dark King Bain has no qualms, however, and is bent on extinguishing the royal family who bears the power of the Light.  When he succeeds in killing Princess Evelayn’s mother, she becomes responsible for the fate of her people much sooner than she had planned, and she will have to take great risks to keep her kingdom safe.

Review

My feelings about Dark Breaks the Dawn are complicated.  Reading it now, as an adult, I find parts of it cliché and almost absurd—yet I can’t help thinking that if had read this book in middle school, I would have thought those “absurd” parts fabulous.   But, then again, I would have found them fabulous partly because they’re things I might have written about myself in middle school…but I think that I’ve learned better by now.  I guess my main conclusion can only be that I personally thought Dark Breaks the Dawn fairly flawed, but there’s probably a younger audience out there just waiting to gobble it up.

Some of these clichés include people with rainbow colored hair, people who have jewels literally embedded in their bodies that give them magic, and a royal family that is all-powerful simply because they are royal (divine right of kings or something, I guess).  None of these things are inherently bad; they just lack some of the subtlety or nuance that I think can be found in a lot of today’s YA fantasy.  And, as I said, in seventh grade I probably would have thought a character with purple hair and a magic jewel in her chest was the coolest thing ever, so maybe it’s all a matter of perspective.

I think the more objective flaw is the book’s pacing.  There’s instalove, to start, which makes it difficult for readers to feel invested in the romance.  Protagonist Evelayn also solves many of her problems with extraordinary ease.  This mean that things that are hyped up as big, dangerous, impossible events by the characters do not come across that way to the reader.  Instead of feeling that Evelyan was performing epic feats, doing things that no one had ever dared to do before, I got the impression that was she accomplished was hardly difficult at all.  I wish scenes had been more drawn out and built more suspense.

Otherwise, however, Dark Breaks the Dawn is pretty solid fantasy.  There’s a clear battle of good vs. evil, plus a badass princess, and a decent amount of plotting and intrigue.  There’s supposed to be some Swan Princess influence, but that only comes in at the end of the novel and looks as though it will be more of a focus on the sequel.   The book isn’t really for me, but I could imagine other people liking it.

3 Stars Briana

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Pawns by Willo Davis Roberts

Information

Goodreads: Pawns
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 1998 (reissued 2017)

Summary

Fourteen-year-old Teddi moved in with her neighbor Mamie a few months ago, after her parents died.  Life is almost starting to seem normal again when Dora shows up on the doorstep.  Dora claims she’s the wife of Mamie’s son Ricky, who died in a plane crash.  But why didn’t Ricky tell his family that he was married or that his wife was expecting a baby?  Is Dora really who she says she is?

Review

I’d never heard of Willo Davis Roberts before picking up this book at the library, though some searching suggests to me that she was, in the 1990s, a well-respected and award-winning author of young adult mysteries.  Still, Simon Pulse’s decision to reissue Pawns surprises me.  Everything about it screams that it was written in the 90s.  I am not convinced that YA readers today will still find it enthralling.

At 154 pages, Pawns is a short book that gets straight to the point–thrilling or mysterious it is not, especially by the standards of today’s YA.  Readers know from the summary on the book jacket that Dora is obviously not any relation to Mamie.  Her strange behavior throughout the book indicates the same.  It is truly surprising that Teddi takes as long as she does to get really suspicious or to take action.  To make up for this lack of suspense, one might think there would be a sense of danger.  But there is not.  Readers accustomed to fare such as The Hunger Games or Three Dark Crowns will find this domestic drama incredibly tame.

Also dating the book are the age of the protagonist–a mere 14 when most YA characters today seem to start at 16 and maybe age to 18 over the course of a series–and the lack of romance.  Aside from an innocent crush on the boy next door, Teddi reveals a novel lack of interest in the opposite sex (again, according to today’s standards).  A YA book that lacks even a kiss, much less the steamier scenes that seem to be cropping up?  This seems to go against everything that YA is.  Shouldn’t there be love triangles and experimentation?  Isn’t that what sells?

In short, Pawns seems to be precisely the type of book that one wouldn’t be able to convince a publisher to sell these days.  At the same time, I am interested to see how readers will respond.  Its length makes it easy to read.  The age of the protagonist and the innocence of her love life make it suitable for younger readers who like YA.  Maybe this is a YA book that really is written for teens, and not for the adults who are currently driving the market.

3 Stars

YA/Classic Match-Up (1)

Closing the pages of a favorite book is always a sad moment.  But sometimes the story can live on in other covers.  Below we list some YA books that can keep the magic of your favorite classics alive.

If You Like Persuasion by Jane Austen

Read For Darkness Show the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

Years ago Elliot North refused to run away with her childhood sweetheart Kai because she believed her duty lay with her family’s estate. After all, as a member of the upper class, she has a responsiblity to care for those affected by the Reduction–the genetic mutation that caused the world to crumble and nearly all scientific advancement to stop. Now Kai has returned as a successful explorer and Elliot suddenly wants to share his world, the world that embraces change and dares to think that the Reduction is finally over. But Kai remains bitter and distant, and Elliot fears to leave all her old values behind.

If You Like Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Read Worlds of Ink and Shadow by Lena Coakley

Charlotte and Branwell Brontë possess the secret of literally jumping into their imaginary world of Verdopolis, and their sister Emily is tired of being left behind. Once all three of them, along with Anne, travelled there together as the all-powerful Genii, but now the elder Brontës keep that power to themselves. Charlotte and Branwell, however, pay a price the others do not see. Will the four of them ever be able to escape the mysterious hold that Verdopolis has on them?

If You Like “The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe

Read Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin

After a plague sweeps through the city, Araby has nothing left.  She spends her time in the Debauchery Club, hoping to forget.  But then she meets Will and Elliot, one the proprietor and the other an aristocrat.  And suddenly she wants to live again.

If You Like The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

Read RoseBlood by A. G. Howard

Seventeen-year-old Rune Germain has a gift for singing, but it always leaves her exhausted.  Her mother believes that sending her to France may help.  There she befriends the mysterious Thorn, a talented violinist who may be more dangerous than he looks.

If You Like The Scarlet PImpernel by Baroness Orczy

Read Rook by Sharon Cameron

Sophia Bellamy lives in a world without technology where the Sunken City once was called Paris and the Commonwealth was England. But even though technology is outlawed to prevent the devastation it once caused long ago, history repeats itself. The people of the Sunken City die each day by the Blade–unless they are fortunate enough to be rescued by the Red Rook, a mysterious savior who empties the prisons and leaves only a red-tipped feather behind.

An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

Enchantment of Ravens

Information

Goodreads: An Enchantment of Ravens
Series: None
Source: City Book Review
Published: September 26, 2017

Summary

Isobel is renowned for her portrait painting, and the beautiful, deadly fair folk are her most prestigious patrons, being unable to engage in any creative Craft themselves without losing their immortality. She has perfected her dealing with them and their tricksy wish-granting to an art itself—until the day she paints human emotion into the Autumn Prince’s eyes—a weakness—and must stand trial for her treachery.

Review

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into An Enchantment of Ravens, but I think I anticipated that this would be more of a fantasy adventure novel and less of a paranormal romance. I like romance in books but not when the romance is the entire book of the book, which was one of the primary reasons An Enchantment of Ravens did not quite work for me. The other issue is that the book is fairly generic and just doesn’t stand out from the YA crowd or even from other human/Fae romances I’ve read.

The book starts intriguingly, with a description of a town called Whimsy and a fairy folk who have zero ability to perform Craft (which apparently includes “making” literally anything, from clothing to art to writing to food; don’t ask what these people eat since they can’t cook). However, as the book progresses, the world building gets more and more muddled, as Rogerson springs an increasing number of magic rules, customs, and creatures onto the readers. And, frankly, I still don’t understand how the world works at large, such as how one gets into the Fae lands or how one gets into the World Beyond (which seems to be the rest of the human world besides the single town of Whimsy?)

The romance is equally baffling at the beginning, since it’s not really clear how or when the protagonists fall in love.  In theory, they have days of interaction; in reality, Rogerson fails to actually describe their conversations or what might have led to their romantic feelings. It’s not necessarily instalove because there is some build-up; it’s more that the build-up is bafflingly off-page.  As the book progresses, the romance gets better, and I do think Rogerson has some talent in writing romantic tension and declarations of love. I simply wish she had used more of that talent at the start of the story.

Plot-wise, it seems as though things happen primarily because they are obstacles to the protagonists’ love.  There’s not really a larger story here, even though there are hints about the transformative power of Isobel’s Craft that I would have loved to see further explored.  I have seen some readers complain about the episodic nature of the beginning of the book.  Episodic quests don’t inherently bother me, but it does seem here as if there’s no real purpose to a lot of the challenges that Isobel and the prince face.

Overall, the book is fine but not remarkable. If you’re normally a fan of Fae/human romances, like the Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa, An Enchantment of Ravens could be something to look into.  If, like me, you want more adventure than romance, this might not be for you.

2 star review Briana

Calamity by Brandon Sanderson

Information

Goodreads: Calamity
Series: The Reckoners #3
Source: Library
Published: 2016

Summary

David is facing the greatest challenge of his life.   His own friend has turned against him and now wreaks vengeance upon the world.  David will do anything to get him back.  Even if it means facing Calamity himself.

Review

Brandon Sanderson knows how to write a fantasy/action novel.  The stakes have been raised increasingly higher as the series progressed.  Now, in the final book of the Reckoners trilogy, things are about to get insane.  Not content with killing or saving individual Epics, David wants to go to the source itself: Calamity, who burns brightly in the night sky.  Teleporting to outer space to face down the greatest evil of them all?  No problem.  David lives on crazy.

Part of Sanderson’s appeal is that he tends not to pull punches.  Things are looking grim.  David and his crew are essentially alone.  Many have died.  They fully intend to die next.  Unspeakable horrors have happened and unspeakable horrors have been caused by them.  Sometimes, you see, saving the world gets messy.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell who is a hero and who is not.  As the final showdown approaches, David and the others are going to have to figure out who they are and what they are fighting for, as well as how far they are wiling to go.

The moral questions raised by Sanderson’s characters help to raise the Reckoners trilogy beyond an action story.  The point is not that things are explode–even though Sanderson’s action scenes tend to be pretty cool.  Rather, the point seems to be that everyone has a choice.  To good or to do harm, to stand up or to crawl away.  The story asks: what kind of choice will you make?

5 stars

Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones

Murder, Magic, and What We Wore-min

Information

Goodreads: Murder, Magic, and What We Wore
Series: None (yet?)
Source: City Book Review
Published: September 19, 2017

Summary

Miss Annis Wentworth has always suspected her father was a spy for England, so when he dies under mysterious circumstances, she takes it upon herself to do some spy work herself to find the murderer. However, her sudden lack of financial support means she has to balance her sleuthing with her new (but completely secret) job as a glamour modiste—a fashionable dressmaker who can imbue her clothes with magic.

Review

Murder, Magic, and What We Wore fits into the small trend I’ve noticed of Regency era YA books that focus on fun and flirting and try not to take themselves overly seriously—even when discussing things like, well, murder.  Think of Cindy Anstey’s Love, Lies and Spies, and you’ll understand the type of tone Kelly Jones has adopted here, though personally I think Anstey does it better.

Jones seems to struggle with finding the right balance for Murder, Magic, and What We Wore because there’s simply so much going on in the book.  There’s the looming issue that protagonist Annis Wentworth believes her father was a spy for England and has been murdered by his enemies and that she needs to uncover her killer and deliver whatever news he was carrying related to the exiled Napoleon.  Yet…weirdly this major, serious plot thread is not always the focus of the novel.  In fact, I’d say most of the novel is focused on the “magic” and “what we wore” part, as Annis tries to live a double life, disguising herself as a fashionable, magical dressmaker (because no self-respecting woman of her station would run a shop) and attempting to maintain her status as a young lady of society known for her fashion sense and advice.

Annis herself isn’t a character I personally warmed to.  Jones tries her best to make Annis strong, brave, and smart, but I often thought she leaned towards the frivolous and made some fairly dire mistakes.  This is reasonable, of course, considering she has zero spy training and naturally would be bad at simply deciding she would like to be a spy, but it doesn’t make me respect her.  Maybe I’m an old grump, but I was half on the side of the people who wanted her to just go home, mind her own business, and leave the espionage to the professionals.  After all, she does have a pretty cool dress shop to run as an alternative career.

So, basically I found Murder, Magic, and What We Wore entertaining but not necessarily thought-provoking or moving.  It’s one of those books that I enjoyed while I was reading it, but I don’t think it will be likely to cross my mind again.  For fluffy Regency books, I really do prefer Cindy Anstey, and for books that are more serious about intrigue and the threat of Napoleon, I adore the School for Unusual Girls series by Kathleen Baldwin.

3 Stars Briana

Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

Information

Goodreads: Firefight
Series: The Reckoners #2
Source: Library
Published: 2015

Summary

David did the impossible.  He killed a High Epic.  But in the process he lost another.  Now he’s on his way to Babylon Restored, formerly Manhattan–to try to find answers.  He needs to know that Epics can be redeemed.  But Regalia, ruler of Babilar, is waiting.

Review

If there is one thing Brandon Sanderson knows, it’s how to write a thrilling fantasy.  Firefight contains all the action, drama, and detailed worldbuilding a fantasy fan could want.  Combined with its cast of compellingly sympathetic characters, it’s sure to keep readers up all night.

Firefight expands the world of the Reckoners, bringing them out of Newcago and into Babylon Restored.  A new setting,  new crew, and new villain all ensure that the story stays fresh.  This is no repeat of Steelheart.  The Reckoners may kill High Epics, but each Epic is different.  And Regalia, ruler of Babylon Restored, seems to have bigger plans in mind than simply lording over what used to be Manhattan.  It’s a race against time as David and his friends attempt to solve the mystery before they find themselves in a trap they cannot escape.

Fans of Sanderson will need no urging to read this book or start the series.  They will know his unique ability to create complex worlds, intriguing systems of magic, and plots with twists it is hard to see coming.  This book contains all that while also delighting in its ridiculous adherence to all the best tropes of action films.  It almost feels campy–in the best possible way.  This is one of the few series that I wish contained more than three books.

5 stars